In Part 2 of our Virtual video tour of Edinburgh we took you on a short tour of the Lawnmarket. In this video we will take you on a virtual tour of the High Street. We begin opposite the City Chambers and travel as far down as the World’s End pub – more about the pub later. If you just want to get straight to the Virtual Tour just click on the video below. For further details of our tours click here.
The City Chambers
As you leave the eastern side of Parliament Square, sitting back from the High Street is the City Chambers. It is almost as if the building is trying to hide itself away from view. However, when this was originally built in 1753, it was designed to remove the makeshift traders who carried out their business on the High Street. To reduce the congestion, the City Council demanded that they relocate here to the Royal Exchange. Eventually, the traders moved back out onto the High Street and carried on trading where they had left off. Instead, when the Tolbooth was demolished in 1817, the City Councillors chose to take ownership of the Exchange and ever since our City Council has sat here.
The Mercat Cross
Opposite the City Chambers is the Mercat Cross which was the meeting place of the townspeople. It was where the Lord Provost of the City Council would make any official announcements. Royal proclamations that had originated in London would be made four days later here, as it would take a horseman this long to ride here. Although it is a fine piece of masonry, it cannot claim to be the original Mercat Cross. The original one was removed in 1756 and this one took its place in 1885. Only part of the column which the Unicorn sits on is the original.
Adam Smith Statue
Only yards away from the Cross is another fine statue of one of Edinburgh’s former famous inhabitants, Adam Smith. For those who are not familiar with this gentleman, he was a Scottish economist and philosopher of the 18th Century. Some of his teachings on business and economics are still studied in university. Probably his most famous writings are contained in the book, “The Wealth of Nations.” It is no surprise that he is considered the “Father of Economics.”
John Knox House
Further down the High Street can be found John Knox House, now a time capsule of a different period in our history. It can lay claim to be the oldest property on the Royal Mile dating back to the 1470s. What it can’t lay claim to is that the “Great Orator,” John Knox himself, actually lived here. The couple who lived here at the same time John Knox was living in Edinburgh were James Mossman and Maria Arras. They were Catholics, and John Knox was Protestant. The records show that they lived here and there coat of arms with their initials on it is firmly fixed to the building.
Why it is called John Knox house is open to conjecture. Could it be that when the Council were widening the High Street, and the building was due for demolition, they had a change of heart and saved this building? Then to give it historical significance, they named it John Knox House? Who knows. Sadly for James Mossman he became only a footnote in history despite being Mary Queen of Scots’ goldsmith. In fact he came to a rather sticky end after the Lang Siege of Edinburgh Castle in 1573. Because he carried on minting coins with her likeness on them, he was executed.
Finally we come to the end of the High Street on the traffic light junction where the World’s End Pub sits. The name of the pub is very apt as this is where the Netherbow Port was located. It was one of the main gateways in the the wall that enclosed the city. Visitors and citizens would pass through the gate of the Netherbow Port to enter or leave the city. For many of the poorest inhabitants of the city, they never ventured out of through the gateway. The lived their entire lives inside the city wall so for them this location really was the “end of the world” for them. The gateway, like the city wall and many of the buildings on this section of the Royal Mile was demolished in 1764 to make the flow of traffic and people easier.
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